Word Power

A new column by Editor Ian Woofenden to demystify the plethora of esoteric terminology inherent in renewable energy. This issue—the volt.

Power Politics

Michael Welch actually defends the utilities? Reactions to a "buyers beware" report by Public citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project.

92 Y2K Effects, Already?

Don Lowburg explores the financial ramifications to RE dealers and installers.

98 Breakin'

John Wiles explains breakers, their types and appropriate use.

105 Home & Heart

Y2K? Why not! Forget all the hype. Kathleen proves that being prepared can be easy.

112 The Wizard

Gravity, and other heavy subjects.

121 Ozonal Notes

Solar Guerrillas everywhere! Oregon net metering, energy fairs take off, and a winner "found the Schwartz."


6 From Us to You

80 HP's Subscription form

81 Home Power's Biz Page 108 Happenings — RE events 114 Letters to Home Power 123 Q&A

125 Micro Ads

128 Index to Advertisers

Access and Info

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Home Power Magazine PO Box 520

Ashland, OR 97520 USA Editorial and Advertising: phone: 530-475-3179 fax: 530-475-0836 Subscriptions and Back Issues: 800-707-6585 VISA / MC 530-475-0830 Outside USA Internet Email:

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Home Power (ISSN 1050-2416) is published bi-monthly for $22.50 per year at PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520. International surface subscription for $30 U.S. periodicals postage paid at Ashland, OR, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER send address corrections to Home Power, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520.

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Install bi| Night-Pomerbii Day

Guerrilla Solar

Guerrilla solar is the unauthorized placement of solar electricity on the utility grid. We became solar guerrillas to make a positive change in our lives, our environment, and even in the grid.

Guerrilla solar is at once a dangerous and positive philosophy— personal and environmental freedom is not an excuse to harm others. There is no fine line between right and wrong here. Does an act make us free, or does it enslave us? Does an act help our planet, or not?

We must take control of our lives. When we relinquish our energies and responsibilities, we give away our freedoms and rights. Today, we have fewer freedoms and more environmental problems than ever before.

The utilities' oppressive denial of our solar energy is unacceptable. Pure spite might be enough reason to go guerrilla solar for some. Rubbing guerrila solar in the utilities' face is just the icing on the cake for us. We have other motives.

We want more personal freedom, and a cleaner planet. That's why we are solar guerrillas.

—Maka Rukus and Jenny Freely


Joy Anderson

Mike Brown

Ellen Coleman

Mark Coleman

Sam Coleman

Joel Davidson

Bob Ellison

Paul Gipe

Anita Jarmann

Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze

Stan Krute

Don Kulha

Kelly Larson

Chris Laughton

Bill Layman

Don Loweburg

Karen Perez

Richard Perez

Shari Prange

Benjamin Root

Joe Schwartz

Tom Snyder

Michael Welch

John Wiles

Dave Wilmeth

Myna Wilson

Ian Woofenden

There are few things as fun as raising hell for the good of the people.

- Molly Ivins plug into


We'reYour Resourcefor HomePower Equipment.


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Alternative Energy Engineering, Inc.

Solar, Wind & Hydroelectric Power Systems

P.O. Box 339 • Redway, CA 95560 • Free Techline: 800-800-0624 •

Joel Davidson

©1998 Joel Davidson

©1998 Joel Davidson

Above: Fastening stand-offs to panels during installation of the 2 KW intertied PV array.

11 he United States is an urban society, with 72% of Americans living on less than 2% of the land. Photovoltaics (PV: solar-electric modules) can displace a significant percentage of polluting electric generators if it becomes an urban technology. With a little patience, planning, and help from an experienced contractor, city folks can install a PV system hassle-free.

Hire a PV Contractor

Experienced do-it-yourselfers can install grid connected PV systems. They need the same skills and knowledge required to install a service panel and re-wire a home. However, dealing with inspectors and your local utility requires special skills.

I've built a lot of homes and have even trained building inspectors. My wife Fran and I have 35 years of PV experience between us. We've learned that most inspectors prefer not to discuss codes and rules with owner-builders. That's why we hired Greg Johanson, owner of Solar Electrical Systems, when we were ready to do our own PV system. Greg is a general and electrical contractor who has installed a megawatt of PV and has a 3 KW PV system on his own home.

Designing the System

We wanted as much PV as we could afford, that would fit on our home's 1400 square foot low-pitched roof, so we chose a 2 KW system. Tilted optimally at 35°, the 225 square foot single crystal array would have looked like a billboard on our home. Behind the house, our office and garage have 10° and 15° south-facing roofs. A tilt-up array would look bad there too, and would be costly to protect from high winds.

We decided to use the low-profile, structurally engineered mounting system that Greg and I designed for PV Pioneer (a utility program) homes and churches in Sacramento. Here in Los Angeles, annual PV production is only 5% less at 10° tilt than at 35°. We also didn't want to spend more for the extra structural engineering and hardware for the high-tilt mount. The low-profile array also put us in compliance with local building codes that prohibit unsightly roof panels and antennas. Our neighbors like the low-profile panels and are thinking about going solar, so we know we made the right decision.

Above: The garage roof just begs for PV. The System

Our PV array has thirty-two Siemens 70 watt modules wired in sets of four in series. Eight groups of four modules are fastened to the roof with wood screws. The mount meets local wind and seismic requirements. All wiring is in flexible or rigid conduit approved by the inspector.

We have a battery bank to protect our computers and for emergency power. Our office, garage, kitchen and home lighting are on dedicated circuits. If the grid is disconnected, the Trace inverter switches these circuits to the batteries. Some people call this configuration a PV UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). Despite news reports to the contrary, Los Angeles has had relatively few power outages in the past 30 years. Most blackouts were only a few minutes long. Our grid power was off for twenty minutes during the 1994 earthquake. Four Johnson Controls 12 volt, 86 amp-hour, sealed gel-cell batteries provide 3.4 KWH energy storage (at 80% depth of discharge). If we need more autonomy, we can get locally manufactured industrial flooded batteries.

So many good things have been said about Trace Inverters that more would be redundant. We thank the folks at Trace for helping make urban PV a reality. We installed a Trace Modular System and SW4048 sine wave inverter that can handle our largest combined loads. The modular cabinet looks good, is easy to install, and impresses inspectors.

Our system cost was $19,742 and qualified for a $5,835 California Energy Commission buy-down rebate. So the net price was

$13,907 or $7.15 per watt AC. The battery storage package cost another $2,709 but was not eligible for the grid-tie buy-down.

So Where's the Hassle?

If you want hassle-free PV, you have to understand inspectors. When we upgraded our service panel a year earlier, Fran told the inspector we planned to install PV. He was really interested and wanted to learn more. Our PV system would be the first in Culver City, so teaching was the key to opening inspectors' minds.

I put together a permit package that would educate inspectors. It included a general outline of the work to be done, system description, design calculations, equipment specifications, parts list, wiring diagrams, drawings, plans, and elevations. Of course, we added the impressive California Buy-down Confirmation application as well as attractive product literature.

I began the inspection process by applying for a homeowner's permit listing Solar Electrical Systems as our licensed electrical sub-contractor. First, I met with the electrical inspector and gave him a copy of the permit package, some photos, and additional information. Next, I met with the engineer responsible for inspecting signs, poles, towers and other things stuck on roofs. He liked the low-profile design.

Next, I met with the construction permit engineer and hit a snag. He couldn't care less about PV. All he wanted were site specific structural calculations. I told him that our generic calculations included my roof type, but he refused to look at them. So I politely asked to see his boss.

The building department director is a professional engineer (PE). I told him about the PV work we did for

Below: The low profile array installed.

Above: Running the wires in rigid and flexible conduit.

utilities, showed him lots of photos and explained our structural calculations. He confirmed the calculations and even waived the construction permit because our design was under three pounds per square foot dead load. The three meetings took two well-spent hours. We ended up paying only $31.50 for an electrical subpanel permit.

Our equipment arrived on schedule. We installed the array on a Saturday during a light rain. Working in the rain is not recommended, but it was our only free day and the roof is nearly flat. Four guys worked for three damp hours to get the array in place. We installed the wiring on the next available clear day. The inspector passed the job without a hitch. We mailed the final papers to the California Energy Commission and received our rebate check within a month.

Net Metering

The next step was getting our net metering agreement. It is important for folks with PV to spin their utility meters backwards. They get full value for their home-grown energy, while displacing polluting electricity. All utilities in the USA are required to allow qualified generating facilities to connect to the grid. California utilities are required to net meter qualified residential and commercial PV systems under 10 KW.

The California Energy Commission's Consumer's Guide to Buying a Solar Electric System listed the Southern California Edison (SCE) net metering contact person. We called SCE and promptly received an application by fax.

SCE recommends, but does not require, a lockable AC disconnect between the PV system and the grid. SCE says that their kilowatt-hour meter in the customer's service panel is their disconnect. Pacific Gas & Electric and most other utilities require lockable disconnects. It will be years before utilities and the PV industry agree on national interconnect standards, so consult with your local contractor.

Below: The exposed Trace Power Module with SW4048 inverter, C40 charge controller, and batteries.

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